Gunman Kills Three Spanish Tourists in Central Afghanistan

Yaqoob Akbary and 

Yaqoob Akbary reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Christina Goldbaum from London.

The New York Times

Three Spanish tourists and one Afghan were killed by a gunman in central Afghanistan on Friday, Taliban officials said, in the first fatal attack on tourists in the country since the Taliban seized power in 2021.

Four other foreigners and three Afghans were also injured in the shooting in Bamiyan Province, a serene stretch of valleys, lakes and ancient relics northwest of the capital, Kabul.

The shooting occurred around 5:30 p.m., when at least one gunman opened fire on the group of tourists as they left a bazaar in the capital of the province, eyewitnesses said. Safiullah Rayed, the director of information for Bamiyan Province, said the dead were Spanish nationals.

Four people have been arrested in connection with the attack, officials said. No group has claimed responsibility.

The government “strongly condemns this accident, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims and assures that all the criminals will be found and punished,” Abdul Mateen Qani, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on X.

The attack comes as Taliban authorities have tried to lure foreign tourists to Afghanistan in the hopes of bolstering the country’s economy and revamping the government’s image on the international stage. Western officials have slammed the Taliban’s restrictions on women and, nearly three years since the Taliban seized power, no country officially recognizes its government.

Last month, Taliban officials opened a government-supported tourism and hospitality institute to build up the country’s tourism infrastructure. They have also tried to assure tourism agencies that the country is safe for foreigners, despite the persistent threat from the Islamic State affiliate in the region, which has carried out sporadic attacks in Afghanistan in recent years and sought to destabilize the government.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Afghanistan was part of the overland so-called “Hippy Trail” across Asia. Foreigners were drawn to the country’s rich natural landscapes, centuries-old mosques and ancient relics. Bamiyan, where the shooting on Friday took place, is home to the remnants of 1,500-year-old giant Buddhas that were carved into the side of a cliff and that the Taliban mostly destroyed in 2001 under their first government. The province also boasts the country’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, a sprawling swath of rugged mountains and deep blue lakes.

Tourism in Afghanistan dwindled after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the violent decades that followed. But after the U.S.-led war ended in 2021 and relative calm returned to the country, so too did some foreign tourists.

In 2021, nearly 700 foreign tourists visited the country, according to the Taliban’s Tourism Directorate in Kabul. That figure rose to around 2,300 in 2022 and reached around 7,000 last year.

The fatal attack on Friday will likely be a setback to the government’s tourism efforts. “This incident may scare other tourists who want to come to Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Tourism Directorate in Kabul.

Christina Goldbaum is the Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief for The Times, leading the coverage of the region

Gunman Kills Three Spanish Tourists in Central Afghanistan